Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Learning to love bacteria: Stanford scientist highlights bugs’ benefits

24.02.2006


Bacteria are bad. Mothers and doctors, not to mention the cleaning product industry, repeatedly warn of their dangers. But a Stanford University School of Medicine microbiologist is raising the intriguing idea that persistent bacterial and viral infections have benefits.



Stanley Falkow, PhD, the Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor in Cancer Research, is publishing his thoughts on this topic in an essay in the Feb. 24 issue of the journal Cell, in which he asks, "Is persistent bacterial infection good for your health?" The essay is based on a talk he was invited to give at Cambridge University in November.

Falkow points out that the medical community and those who fund medical research focus on curing disease. He wonders if this single-mindedness might distract researchers from appreciating the beneficial contributions of micro-organisms to the body.


"Organisms that cause disease are usually considered in the context of harm and epidemics and so on," said Falkow. "But the fact is that a great number of organisms that infect humans come in and set up housekeeping as it were. There are no clinical symptoms of anything wrong and people take the organisms with them to their graves."

It’s not that the organisms in question - such as the bacteria that cause pneumonia or meningitis - are innocuous, he said. It’s just that most of the individuals do not get disease from being infected.

The best recent example of this, said Falkow, is H. pylori. First identified only 25 years ago, the organism earned researchers last year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for being implicated as a cause of ulcers and stomach cancer.

As is typical in the world of microbiology, though, it’s not a simple equation: being infected = ulcers or cancer. At least 80 percent of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori yet has no overt symptoms.

What makes the study of H. pylori even more perplexing is that as such advances as clean water and pasteurization are adopted, the prevalence of H. pylori infection has declined. On the one hand, this has been accompanied by a drop in the incidence of gastric cancer and ulcers. On the other, there has been an increase in esophageal cancer. H. pylori appear to protect against cancer of the esophagus. "So that says that there might be something about persistent infection that might be protective," said Falkow.

This raises the conundrum: By messing with the microbes, are we just replacing one disease with another?

Falkow’s lab has been studying the phenomenon of persistent infection for decades, in particular with H. pylori and Salmonella. He and his colleagues have shown that when infected with these organisms, mice initially show an inflammatory response that then settles down and stays with them for the rest of their lives.

Although very few of these organisms remain in the mice, it is enough to cause the immune system to have an ongoing response. "It’s not so much that the immune system has failed," Falkow explained, "but that the organisms have manipulated the immune system in such a way that they can’t be cleared." If the infections are cleared by antibiotic intervention, the mice are highly susceptible to re-infection, and the re-infection is more likely to progress to disease than the initial infection.

Furthermore, as many infectious diseases have decreased, autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes have increased.

"All these observations have been made without necessarily trying to pull it all together," said Falkow. "So what I tried to do in this article is to point out that the continued presence of these organisms in human society may actually be beneficial to the host and that is why they are tolerated by the immune system."

It’s an intriguing idea that requires more research in animal models. "We don’t know what to look for per se," he said. "But we can guess that since a persistently infected host is constantly having its immune system stimulated and refined, that may provide it with resistance to other things."

He wondered whether, as seen with H. pylori, humans are also unknowingly causing the disappearance of other things that have been with us for all of our evolution, and that might play some role in our health. "Could it be this that is responsible for some of the things we see such as the failure of the immune system to act appropriately?" he asked.

The only answer to date is: "It’s complicated." Instead of a persistent infection, some people get very ill from organisms such as Salmonella, H. pylori, tuberculosis and meningitis. How the immune system responds differently in individuals demands further research.

Falkow credits his colleagues for providing the fodder for his essay.

Mitzi Baker | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Second cause of hidden hearing loss identified
20.02.2017 | Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan

nachricht Prospect for more effective treatment of nerve pain
20.02.2017 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

Novel breast tomosynthesis technique reduces screening recall rate

21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Use your Voice – and Smart Homes will “LISTEN”

21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>